The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[04] Dark Places

Oh, Gillian Flynn. My heart, in some weird and disturbed way, beats for you in this myster/thriller/horror book set all over the home state I love SO much! It was, I have to admit, a bit titillating and surreal to see places I’ve been and know fairly well (KCK, KCMO, Lawrence, Topeka, etc.) described in a book that has such, well, creepy as all hell plot components.

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Lady Flynn’s most recent best seller Gone Girl. This book, with its dark and yet somehow nondescript book cover sat on the shelves where I work for, like, months, quietly whispering to me every day “you haven’t read me yet. You keep recommending me to people. people keep recommending me to you. Reeeeaaaaddd mmeeeee……” (the last part was always in some creepy, Jacob Marley voice, complete with chain rattling). But I didn’t want to. Mostly because the plot didn’t quite make me go all

But also because, you know, I refuse to read a book that a billion people and the whole universe is telling me to read all at once. I just can’t. It’s silly rebellion, but so was buying hundreds of dollars worth of Breakfast Club t-shirts and black rubber bracelets when I was a freshman in high school. But I did feel bad about continuing to recommend a book to others that I hadn’t read just because it was on the best seller wall (NO, FIFTY SHADES! I WILL NOT HAND YOU TO A SINGLE PERSON.), so I decided to compromise with myself and I read this book instead. And I LOVED it.


Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

First of all, Lady Flynn has quite the mouth on her. Secondly. I was bat shit terrified staying up late and reading the chapters when Libby goes back in her own mind and describes what it was like to wake up and hear her family being murdered, only to run away and have to live with not only the survivor’s guilt but with the memories. I also want to give the Lady MAD PROPS for creating one of the few books I’ve read in a while that truly kept me guessing as to who the killer was, why the killer killed, and what this could mean for Ben, for Libby, and for the family that they both, in one way or another, lost. Libby was the kind of narrator that at once infuriated me – she refused to actually do anything with her life, instead excusing it all away because of what happened to her – while also making me feel sympathetic to this girl who lost her family, and then has to deal years later with all the possible “what if’s” that come with being that young and testifying in such an intense case.

The book also touched on some of the “darker” aspects of the legal system – what can happen when well meaning people encourage young people to say things that they feel the adults want to hear, and when the system has already made decisions about certain people in certain walks of life. It was frustrating to read, and was one of those situations where I felt myself going “THAT’S NOT FAIR! IF YOU ONLY KNEW THE TRUTH!” I found the ending to be surprising, although I will say that, probably about a dozen pages out or so I was kind of able to put it all together. BUT, most books don’t even string me along for that long. So I thought that this plot was really well done, and the plot twist was one that, as I understand it, is one of the Lady Flynn’s typical gusto storytelling maneuvers! Here here!

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[03] Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage

OOOOHKAY. So. This book. I feel the need to preface this book analy-cussion thingy (analysis/discussion. get it?) by saying that I am, like, weirdly in love with this show. And with polygamists in general. This interest ranges from the extreme (couldn’t stop reading books like Escape and other FLDS compound related books) to the tame (see book, left) to the completely fictional (DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED about the crap ending to Big Love. Although all my love to Gennifer Goodwin). I don’t know what it is, but I blame the same part of me that decided to be be a sociologist in my undergrad and the part of me that likes to creep on people at the coffee shop to see what they’re ordering. It’s like a look inside a social environment that exists within the parameters of a social structure I also exist in. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

Anyway, so this book is about now famous polygamist Kody Brown and his four wives, who are the subjects of the TLC show Sister Wives. If you haven’t watched it, and overwrought reality TV is your thing (sign me up for a double dose, if you please!) then you might just enjoy this kind of “behind the scenes” look at how the Brown family came to be. Only, here’s the thing. THEY ALL SEEM TO HATE EACH OTHER! It’s hilarious. Don’t get me wrong. I understand, as a newly married lady, that I’m just now coming to understand some of the complications, drama, and behind-closed-doors  situations that can, apparently, make married life somewhat difficult from time to time! And I imagine that, once you start adding multiple wives and children in to the mix, things can get a little overwhelming pretty fast. HOWEVER. Something just feels different about this particular familial tale.

The book opens and ends with chapters from Kody, wherein he offers his opinions and his “side” of the story as to how his family came to be, and how they keep functioning amidst the drama (those who watch the show will know that, shortly after ‘coming out’ as polygamists, the family faced ridicule in Utah, and so decided to move the entire family to Las Vegas). Between that, the story of the family unfolds as each of the four wives has a chance to talk about each “phase” of the relationship, including when various children were born and when the other wives came in to the family. The chapters go in order of the wives – Mary, Janelle, Christine, and Robin – and they all, basically, cover the same block of time in each chapter, so the reader seems pretty much the same set of events described from three or four point of views (Robin, the last wife, didn’t offer many opinions on the early years of the marriage). The ONLY  thing is that each of the women seem to say the same thing:

“I was hurt because the other wives misunderstood. Only not really. I misunderstood their misunderstanding. But I didn’t say anything because, you know. Kody. And the family.”

THEY ALL DO IT. So this entire family is essentially just everyone saying “I felt HURT. My feelings were treated BADLY.” But no one ever seemed to realize that if it’s happening to THEM, MAYBE it’s happening to a sister wive. I don’t know. A lot of it came across more like a dorm of girls who all happen to be dating the same man, than it did a personal description of plural marriage and what that’s like. And maybe I’m being unfair. The book never really touted itself as being any kind of description or defense of plural marriage as a whole – just to tell their story. But, as Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility, and I guess I just felt like if the Browns have chosen to make themselves known as a polygamist family, it’s kind of their “job” to ambassador for their lifestyle. Including like writing a better book.

Rating: Eh.

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Sussing Out my Twilight-y Feelings


So, here’s the thing. I recently went with my cousins and my mom to go see the latest and last Twilight movie. And it was, without a doubt, one of the most fun and entertaining movies I’ve seen in quite some time. And, yes, I’m mostly aware of how ridiculous that sounds. But I’ve been watching them from the beginning, and although the beginning was SO. BAD. SOBAD. SO SO SO SO BAD. I still really love watching these movies. I mean, there’s just so much of this face:

And, of course, Kristen Stewart doing this a lot:

When I watch the movie and listen to that terrible dialogue (SPIDER MONKEY. He calls her a spider monkey. Seriously. Not to mention there is at least one reference to heroin) and I laugh and laugh and laugh, but I’m so addicted that I literally can’t turn it off, and will watch movie after movie all while thinking in my mind “stop. don’t be doing this. it’s a little embarrassing. a lot embarrassing”. So, to turn this rambling love-gush in to something resembling a coherent post, after seeing the epic cinematic conclusion of the YA saga, I felt inspired to go back and try to give the books another read, for the first time since the last time I read them in high school. This is a feeling I often seem to come down with after I see a movie based on a book/play/author/generally about semi-bookish people (I can personally thank The Gilmore Girls and a weird kind of fictional-character peer pressure for reading the number of Russian authors I’ve gotten through). The movie often reminds me how much I love the stories that lie within books, which is just a hop skip and jump from reading them again.

And there in lies the rub.


Because, you see…turns out I HATE these books. Which is a very disconcerting thing for me to write, primarily because of how much I LOVE these movies. I go back to read the books and the only things that pop out at me PAGE after PAGE is just how whiny Bella is, how freakishly and intensely overprotective and stalkerish Edward is of Bella, and how SERIOUSLY, SERIOUSLY bad the writing is. While in the movies this bad writing tends to come off more humorous and just kind of, you know, “um…what?!”, in the book it literally causes my brain to hurt. I also have my personal qualms with Bella re: being a completely awful role model for teenage girls and her entire relationship with Edward being a really codependent and unhealthy relationship. However, even more than that, the more and more I try to go back and read the Twilight books, the more I’m struck by how these kinds of books maybe just aren’t up my alley anymore. It’s not YA – I still like quite a bit of the contemporary children’s and YA I run across. It’s these books. These paranormal romance love triangle overwrought teen heartthrob squee books. The kind of books I would have flipped over at 15, and just can’t do anymore.

Weird. Maybe I really am growing up, no matter how often it seems like that’s just not true.


Then again…maybe not.

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Appreciation as Prayer

Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.

Happy T-Givings, y’all! Hopefully all of you and yours are gathered together safely this wonderful holiday season, enjoying good weather and football and lots of eating and parade watching and reading and whatever else brings your family community and joy. For those of you whose Thanksgiving is less pleasant – keep calm. Focus on the mashed potatoes. Just a few more months and the non-Holiday American will return.

Choosing to leave this post as devoid of cynacism as is possible for myself, I’d like to go ahead and give just a brief list of things that, in my (soon to be as of tomorrow) 24 years of life, I’ve come to be completely and eternally grateful for:

1.) My husband. Mark is an amazing man who is capable of amazing things. And he doesn’t make fun of me for doing a blog and reading books all the time and then writing about said books on said blog. And he knows how I take my coffee, and won’t judge me when I put peanut butter on my pancakes, even though he thinks its the weirdest thing on earth (quick poll: an other PBers out there? or is it just butter and syrup for you? no syrup? fruit? I’m extremely interested in your pancake eating habits).

2.) My family and best friends: You know who you are. I call you all the time. I text you. I ask you things about the eternal novel I’m always working on. You let me come and play with your pets and do my laundry at your house and sleep on your couch and eat your food. My day to day wouldn’t happen without you. And I couldn’t imagine having better people to make it happen.

3.) Coffee. Especially when it comes hot out of the Kurig after I get to push the really fun button, or when Starbucks makes it with more sugar than coffee.

4.) Books. Books. All the books, all the stories. And the idea of all the books and stories that are still out there to read. Books are hope and experience and travel and learning and doing and community, all wrapped up in metaphors and fun fonts and hopefully beautiful covers. Books are my job, my school, my passion and my friends.

5.) Fall colors. I mean. Really? Look at that:

I LIVE THERE. I mean, not ‘there’ exactly, but in the Flint Hills, which is where those pictures were taken. It’s so beautiful. And it makes my heart explode.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all the best evening.

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[02] Short Shot: “Signs and Symbols”

“Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov is a short story by the famed writer of Lolita, a books I’ve read but will have to discuss another day because OH MY JESUS THE FEELINGS in that book. It’s mostly gross. And also fascinating. This story, however, is about an elderly Jewish husband and his wife who are on their way to visit their son in an asylum, worrying what to buy him for this birthday. Their son has an affliction where he delusionally believes that the objects around him are talking about him, accusing him, plotting against him. Because of this, the parents are having a hard time deciding what to buy him.

When the couple arrives at the hospital, they are told that their son tried again to kill himself last night, and so will be unable to visit with them today. The couple goes home, makes dinner, and the husband goes to bed. The wife stays up, looks at photographs, and plays cards. When the husband arises, the two have a cup of tea, discuss a plan to bring their son home, and are called several times by a young woman looking for “Charlie” at a wrong number. And that’s all that happens.

Flavorwire says that “Signs and Symbols” “is, perhaps, both a comment on the nature of insanity and the nature of the short story itself, with all its rules and strangeness and banality”, which I think is a really interesting way to come at the story. I do think that the most poignant portion of the story is the final paragraph or so in which a girl calls the couple several times at a wrong number – its the section of the story in which the reader is shown one of the most classic facets of insanity: the repetition of events and actions multiple times by the same actor, expecting different results. But I wouldn’t have thought to think of this story as some kind of allegory to the short story as a format. While I do agree that some of the ‘rules’ of writing successful short stories (I’m thinking largely of what Chekhov had to say on the subject) seem to be completely assinine, I do wonder if the very act of story creation isn’t a form of madness in and of itself. Creating stories asks us to look at everything around us and ask “what’s the story there”? It asks us to pull stories from in ourselves and outside ourselves and to marry them together into something potentially beautiful, potentially frightening, but ultimately something we deem “true”, even if not realistic or factual. The lines blur, and I think that’s the beauty at the heart of this story. It blurs the lines – between sane and insane, between parent and child, between fact and fiction.

“Referential mania,” the article had called it. In these very rare cases, the patient imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. He excludes real people from the conspiracy, because he considers himself to be so much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to each other, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His in- most thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing, in some awful way, messages that he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.
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[01] The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

September is a willful, stubborn girl who, like most willful, stubborn girls, is one day approached by the spirit of the wind and a green leopard, who whisk her off to Fairyland, where she meets witches, goes on an epic quest for a magic spoon against an evil leader, and has all kinds of adventures – and some sadness too.

Hello, girl version of The Phantom Tollbooth (only not really, because I don’t think that books have genders, and especially not THAT book). But for real, this book follows a general format that definitely echoed Juster’s amazing tale about a bored boy named Milo. But I had absolutely no problem with that, as The Phantom Tollbooth has long been one of my favorite books, and I have a feeling that Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland might just one day join it. There are not only crazy adventures and memorable characters (the “wyverary” – a wyvern/library combo – and a marid named Saturday), but the whole book is written with this tone of the absurd, mixed with literary wordplay and a certain meta-recognition (*note to self: ass*) of fairy tale tropes. It allows the book to poke fun at itself, it’s genre, and to relate to children and tell them a story without teaching down to them or making them feel like using their imagination is a stupid or frivolous thing to do.

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the entire book was when September when to visit the Worsted Wood in the autumn kingdom. Valente created such AMAZING descriptions of the nightly feast and marriage of the prince and princess of autumn, for the entire kingdom is one where nothing changes and everything is gold and amber and smokey and fall and, in my opinion, absolutely wonderful. True, halfway through the Worsted Wood, September begins to turn in to a tree, which was odd, but overall the adventures she had there were the ones I most wished I had been able to have when I was little.

The fact that this book was originally published online raises some interesting discussion about the nature and value of self-published books, especially those that may get picked up by traditional brick-and-mortar publishing houses, which this author desires to make NO comment on, but who would recommend the following article as a starting point!

Rating: OMFGZ

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